Show Me Your Mussels

For my 20th birthday, I had a few friends over for a sophisticated party. Nothing too wild, the party was an afternoon affair. I had a few friends over for a light meal and opening presents. My mom made mussels, one of my all-time favorite meals.As my mom was cooking the mussels in the kitchen, my friend, filled with curiosity, wandered in to observe. He had an important date coming up and really wanted to woo this woman. He thought making her mussels might do the trick, but he was afraid they’d be too complicated to cook. My mom assured him that there was nothing to it and walked him through the simple steps of how to cook mussels. His date ended up being a success and the two of them dated for many months until graduation inevitably sent them in separate directions.
This birthday anecdote exemplifies why I love mussels. They seem so fancy, yet they’re affordable and easy to make, and they always wow the crowd.
When I’m cooking in the summertime, I want a meal that takes minimum effort to prepare while giving me maximum taste and satisfaction. Lately, I’ve been making meals for dinner that I could make with my eyes closed–grilled salmon, salad, corn on the cob, and mussels. That always comes as a shock to my friends when I tell them I had mussels for dinner in the comfort in my own home. These scrumptious mollusks are easy to make! Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Go to your local fish market and pick up the freshest mussels you can find! (1 lb. for 2) When I’m in Milwaukee (which I usually am in the summer), I go to St. Paul’s Fish Market for the freshest fish around.
  2. Pick up a dry white wine in which to cook your mussels. When it comes to cooking with wine, I look for cheap, but also something I would drink (thanks mom and Julia Child for teaching me this important lesson). Obviously you’re going to have a glass while you’re cooking (another important tip from both my mom and Julia Child), so you want something that tastes good and doesn’t break the bank. My mom always cooked with Frontera, so that’s become my go-to wine for cooking. I usually use a Sauvignon Blanc or a Chardonnay.
  3. Chop up a bunch of scallions and a clove (or 2) of garlic. You’ll be adding these to sauce.
  4. Wash off mussels. Put them in a pot. Add wine (enough to cover mussels but not too much so you can’t properly cook off the alcohol), garlic and scallions.
  5. Cover pot. Bring to a boil. Once all mussels have opened, turn off the stove, and there you have it (as Julia used to say)!
  • Serve over pasta or with a side of crusty bread.
  • Fun fact: the shells make great dipping spoons.
  • If you’re still feeling extremely unmotivated to cook, here are some places (that I like) where you can go to get your mussels fix:
  • Whether you decide to cook your mussels at home or enjoy someone else’s cooking, I hope you throughly enjoy your meal. Bon appetit!
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    The Spirit of Mr. Rogers

    Photo credit:

    The other day, during indoor recess, I felt cold in my classroom, so I decided to put on a zip-up sweater. I happened to be standing over a table of students who were playing a card game of which I had never heard. Intrigued, but also cold, I put on my sweater while monitoring the game. I pulled the zipper all the way up to my chin and then artfully zipped it down in the style of Mr. Rogers, my favorite television neighbor.

    “I’m Mr. Rogers,” I declared. This declaration was met by blank stares and it quickly dawned on me that none of them knew about Mr. Rogers. They’d of course heard of his popular puppet Daniel Striped Tiger because of the cartoon show, but Mr. Rogers was out of their frame of reference.

    When I gushed about this realization to my colleague, who was also in the room, she responded, “To be fair, I never really watched that show either.” Even twenty-somethings aren’t as familiar with Mr. Rogers as I thought they were.

    Of course, taking a step back, I realize that it’s not all that surprising that today’s generation of kids doesn’t know about Mr. Rogers. He died before they were born and most PBS stations stopped airing the show regularly. While it’s understandable that most kids today don’t know anything about the beloved TV man, it’s a shame.

    Yes, there were and still are many children’s TV shows with positive messages, but few shared their messages the way Mr. Rogers did—by looking children directly in the eye and telling them they mattered and were loved just the way they were.

    I’ve written before about all of the important life lessons imparted by Mr. Rogers and I want to know who is doing this today? Where does the spirit of Mr. Rogers live on?

    According to the Atlantic, it’s in advice columns because that’s “where adult problems are considered with dignity, and where feelings are taken seriously.” A Reddit user believes  that it’s Neil deGrasse Tyson who cares the torch of Mr. Rogers’ spirit because he’s brilliant and kind and talks about living to make other’s lives better each day.

    Just the other day, I came across an article in the Huffington Post about a Massachusetts teacher who created a music video called “Black Is Beautiful” for her female students who often expressed their dismay about their appearances. We need more of this kind of positivity for our children and ourselves.

    Who else is encouraging children to be curious on a day-to-day basis? Who else continually reaffirms to them that they are great just the way you are? I believe that is the responsibility of all of us to carry on the spirit of Mr. Rogers.


    [And now, because I couldn’t help myself, a video of my favorite Mr. Rogers Remix.]


    The Perfect Table, or How to Dine Out

    The perfect table.

    I follow a few simple rules when dining out. First, only dine in places serving cuisine and dishes that I couldn’t make myself. Second, as my good friend puts it, if your meal is under three hours or courses, you’re doing it wrong. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, be the perfect table.

    When I worked in the restaurant industry, we referred to “the perfect table” as one that coursed out their meal and ordered a bottle of wine with every course. There are several variations on this theme, but generally the perfect table starts out with a round of cocktails before looking at the menu. Then, they share a bottle of wine with their appetizers. Following appetizers is the main course and another bottle of wine or two. Lastly, dessert arrives along with a round of after-dinner drinks.

    The Champagne and oyster course.

    I love starting off the meal by sharing a half-bottle of champagne with my dining companion and a dozen oysters. If I’m dining Italian, then the meat and cheese board is a must. From here, depending on my appetite, I could go into a soup or salad course, or I might dive into the entrée. Whatever the choice, there will always be a new bottle of wine to pair with the meal– a substantial red if I’m eating a meatier fish, steak, or hearty pasta; white if it’s lobster or a lighter fish. I’m partial to an unoaked Chardonnay or an Albarino. Depending on the number of guests I’m dining with or how quickly we sip our wine, a second bottle will be ordered for the table.

    Pass the Courvoisier.

    Finally, after several hours of libations and good cheer, time for what is perhaps my favorite part of the meal: the after-dinner drink. Nothing complements a delightful evening of food and friends quite like a snifter of Courvoisier. Some reach for the port, others a Brandy Alexander, but me—I love cognac.

    With there being thousands of dining options in New York, I want my dining experience to be just that—an experience. I want the restaurant where I dine to grant me access to food and wine that might otherwise be out of my reach. If not, there’s no point in eating out. While I don’t dine in this manner every weekend, I do strive to be the “perfect table” at least once or twice a month. Of course, being the sensible New Yorker that I [almost] am, I always budget for such meals.

    Oh You Fancy, Huh?!

    “You know you’re not in high finance considering secondhand underpants. Check your mind, how’d it get so bad? What happened to those other underpants you had?”- Flight of the Conchords, “Inner City Pressure

    benjaminsIt’s difficult to lead a life of luxury when living in the most expensive city in the country, especially when student loans still need to be paid off and the job market isn’t quite trustworthy. Layoffs still seem to be happening more often than not and thus, excess money doesn’t really seem to be flowing into my pockets at the rate in which I’d like.

    Excess money or not, I still believe everyone deserves to be pampered a bit. Just because I can’t afford a weekend getaway to Barbados doesn’t mean I can’t pamper myself within my means! Here are 5 things I like to do to make myself feel fancy without breaking the bank:

    cheese plate1) Add a wine and cheese course to my dining ritual. It’s been a long day at the office and you deserve a break! You’ll be making dinner at some point in the evening, why not start with some hors d’oeuvres! When I come home from work, I love to sit down at the kitchen table, take out a block of aged gouda, pour myself a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and catch up on the reading of my periodicals. After I’m pleasantly full, I begin thinking about what’s for dinner.

    2) Start with a pre-dinner cocktail and finish with an after-dinner drink. When Sangriamy friends and I go out to eat, we usually start with a nice craft cocktail before even bothering to look at the menus. It’s a nice way to ease into the meal and enjoy one another’s company. It also makes me feel like a lady of leisure because I’m taking my time to dine. At the end of the meal, we love having our after-dinner drinks. More often than not, you’ll find me swirling my snifter of Courvoisier while we debate whether or not we’ve made room for dessert.

    3) Create my very own spa experience in the comfort of my own bathroom. This can easily be accomplished by drawing a hot bubble bath for yourself or turning your shower on as hot as possible. Play some soothing classical music and light your favorite scented candle. I love anything vanilla-scented. Or fresh-linen scented.

    4) Change my outfit at least once a day. Mr. Rogers really got me in the habit of coming home and changing into my house clothes after a day in the office. Throw your shoe over your head while you’re at it! Changing my outfits once a day makes me feel like I have an unlimited supply of clothes in my closet. Look at all my clothes, the poor didn’t want this one! On my days off, I like to start out by hanging around the house in lounge wear and then changing into my going out wear in the evening.

    pinenuts5) Buy pine nuts. Have you ever seen how expensive pine nuts are? Buying pine nuts gives me the false sense of security that money is no object. In all seriousness, though, I think it’s important to splurge on a food item here and there, all in the name of good cooking! So while Ethel and Frank are in the nut aisle comparing the prices of walnuts versus almonds, I reach over their heads and grab for the pine nuts, the most expensive nut. Makes for a most delicious addition to a salad or a garnish for butternut squash soup.

    What do you do to make yourself feel fancy without breaking the bank?

    Here’s To the Ladies Who Lunch

    “Here’s to the ladies who lunch–everybody laugh. Lounging in their caftans and planning a brunch on their own behalf. Off to the gym, then to a fitting, claiming they’re fat. And looking grim ’cause they’ve been sitting choosing a hat. Does anyone still wear a hat? I’ll drink to that.”- “Ladies Who Lunch” from “Company.”

    It wasn’t until I started waiting tables on the Upper East Side that I got a special glimpse into the world of the Ladies Who Lunch. When I was younger and just getting acclimated into the adult world, I used to think that being a lady of leisure would be The Life. Who wouldn’t want to spend the day shopping, meeting friends for a long lunch with cocktails, visiting the spa, maybe working out with a personal trainer here and there. That seemed to be the ideal way to pass the time.

    Now, after spending a good part of a year amongst the Ladies Who Lunch, I’m not so sure I’d want any of that. In fact, I can say for certain, I do not want to be a lady who lunches. I’d rather be a Lady Who Works Very Hard and Starts Her Own Company than a lady of leisure.

    For starters, it was a little hard at first to adjust to the way I was viewed as a server by some of these Ladies Who Lunch. After sharing the daily specials, I often wanted to add, “I’m not your little servant girl and you don’t need to feel sorry for me. I don’t envy you or your crying baby. I actually went to graduate school. I’m just looking to make extra money.”

    Second, I didn’t know it was possible to have so many different water orders at one table. I’ll have sparkling water, but not I’m not sure what she’ll have. Or my favorite, one person would order water with no ice, another would order water with ice, a third would order water with no ice, but with a lemon, and the fourth water with ice and all of the bar fruits.

    I quickly found that iced tea and Pinot Grigio were the two staple drinks among Ladies Who Lunch. I often marveled at how fast some of these women could suck down iced tea. Some days, it was impossible to keep up.

    I’ve also never seen so many crazy strollers in my life. Where do people find these things? The latest strollers look more like monster trucks and less like efficient ways to transport babies around town. Speaking of children, I’m so glad my parents taught me never to scream or throw my food at a restaurant when I was young. That is something I will be sure to pass along to my children.

    Finally, I would like you to know, Ladies Who Lunch, that none of you are fat. Not a single one of you. When you go out for lunch, you don’t need to split a salad five ways. It’s okay if you order your own meal. Also, feel free to eat a roll here and there. I promise it won’t hurt you.

    My waiting tables days have ended and I must say, it’s been fun, Ladies Who Lunch! I appreciate all the life lessons you’ve inadvertently taught me over your chopped salads and glasses of wine. This is by far the most important thing I learned:

    Words of wisdom from Countess Luann, my favorite real housewife of New York.

    Happy Blogiversary To Me!

    cheersToday marks my three-year blogiversary. Quite a milestone, if I may say so! I’d actually forgotten the exact date I took the plunge into the blogosphere until today when my WordPress account prompted to renew my expiring domain name (something I have to do annually).

    Three years ago today, I bought my own Tweetupdomain name and started a blog so that I would have writing samples for potential employers. Little did I know that blogging would catapult me into a completely new career path and take me into the uncharted waters of tweet-ups and other social media/blogging-related meetups. Not to mention the countless people I’ve met virtually and in real life thanks to this medium.

    I don’t think I ever thought about where blogging would lead me or what would actually become of this blog. I simply just wrote in hopes that someone, at least–if not solely–my parents, would read, enjoy, be entertained, and be challenged by what I wrote.

    breakfast sandwichMy first blog post was about a sandwich. I’m a woman of many words when it comes to the foods I enjoy, so it’s no surprise that food posts have made many appearances on this blog. I’ve shared family cooking traditions, expounded upon my own food obsessions, and even passed along a recipe or two.

    classroomAnother thing I’ve loved about having this blog is that it’s been a great forum for creating dialogue on social issues that are important to me such as education, health care, and the latest happenings in local government. Facebook and Twitter rants don’t quite do it for me.

    I raise my glass to you, Prince William!

    Then of course, there’s the lighter side. That’s the great thing about having a blog called Ramblings, I can write about whatever I want. Conversation starters for the socially challenged, gushing over my literary crushes, reflecting on an old celebrity crush, requesting to work for Saturday Night Live in a cheeky cover letter, lamenting the death of romance, ranting about Comic Sans. One of my greatest joys came from solving the age-old mystery from my youth about the disappearance of the other Cinnamon Toast Crunch bakers.

    Perhaps the biggest laugh for me is in realizing that Snooki has provided my blog with the most traffic. Thanks to the post I wrote about her publishing a novel, there was always a spike in traffic to my blog on Thursdays just before Jersey Shore aired. Thank you, Google image search!

    So, what’s next? What will the next three years bring? More of everything, I hope! For starters, it’s time to get back to a more frequent blogging schedule. Second, it’s time to get more personal. Perhaps throw in a bit more about my own life, only the interesting parts of course! Lastly, I really want to take a look at how I can engage foreign readers. Within the last year, WordPress started keeping stats on clicks by country. It’s really cool to look at the map of top views by country for my blog:

    Screen shot 2013-01-25 at 9.47.56 PM

    People from Myanmar have visited my blog? Not to mention Albania, Egypt, Mauritius, Australia, and India. It blows my mind! If only I could get this visitors to speak to me and share their stories. The possibilities would be endless. I would love to find a way to foster an international conversation.

    We’ll see what’s happen. Here’s to the next three years and beyond!

    Champagne toast!
    Champagne toast!

    Food Obsessions

    While reading about culinary quests in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine issue on food, I started thinking about my own personal food obsessions. As a food lover and cook, there are many dishes, condiments, and meals that I continually obsess over. I am known to frequent restaurants that are way out of my way just to get eggs done a special way or go to a tucked away specialty store to get my favorite variety of mustard. We all have foods that we can’t live without, and below are the items are my food obsessions:

    ImageGigantic salads 
    Among family and friends and anyone else for whom I’ve cooked, the gigantic, all-encompassing salad is known as my signature dish. I love when a salad is a full meal. My salads have staples: toasted nuts, grilled veggies, cherry tomatoes. I like to vary the seasonings and proteins I use. Sometimes I’ll throw in bacon, other times grilled salmon or another grilled fish. I like to add cheese shavings, particularly aged gouda. Homemade dressing always.

    Summer in the Whipp house meant an abundance of pesto on hand. My mom made pesto from the fresh basil in her garden and since I soon became addicted to this sauce, I made sure that I learned how to make the perfect batch of pesto. On many summer mornings, I went to the garden to pluck fresh basil for my pre-swim practice meal. To me, pesto goes with everything; on pasta, in sandwiches, and as dip for carrots. I’ve gone to great lengths to make pesto. Once, at a college dinner party, I resorted to using a mortar and pestle to make pesto because none of us could afford the luxury of a food processor.

    Pizza was always considered a treat when I was young and I still view it as such. When my parents left us with a babysitter, we were treated to pizza. When I dined over at my best friend’s house in elementary school, we were surprised with a pizza from the local pizza joint. I could probably eat pizza every day (in fact, I tried that once when visiting the south of France) and though I eat if often, it always feels like a delicacy. I’ve eaten a lot of pizza in my day, but I’m still convinced Zaffiro’s in Milwaukee is the best pizza I’ve ever had. (Joseph’s in Boston runs a close second.)

    Who doesn’t like brunch?! I’ll eat it at any time of the day. I love inventive egg scrambles with interesting spices, breakfast burritos, huevos rancheros, savory breakfast meats, coffee, bloody marys dragged through the garden and topped with oysters, the list goes on. I enjoy going out for brunch as much as cooking it in the comfort of my own home. Since moving to New York, I know also enjoy ordering in brunch. A few months ago, my friend and I discovered a great little place in East Harlem that delivers brunch on the cheap and they deliver coffee! The best part is that the food travels incredibly well. I’ve become a big fan of cheap, instant brunch that I don’t have to cook and can enjoy in the comfort of my own home.

    Deluxe Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
    I do not like plain old grilled cheese sandwiches. What I do like are grilled cheese sandwiches stuffed with meats, vegetables, maybe even a crabcake or two. It’s fun to experiment with making melts because the possibilities are endless. You can vary the bread you use, the kind of cheese, the sauce you put on the sandwich, the kind of bacon, etc. Never met a deluxe grilled cheese that I didn’t like. If you need inspiration, check out the Wisconsin Board of Cheese’s Grilled Cheese Academy for recipes (and food porn).

    My favorite condiment. I’m partial to Grey Poupon, especially of the Country Dijon variety. I put mustard on sandwiches, in dressing, and on crackers. I’ve been meaning to get to the National Mustard Museum in Wisconsin, but time has not permitted. Yet.


    ImageSimilar to brunch, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like bacon (except for my vegetarian friend). Like pizza, I could also eat bacon at every meal. I was delighted to find this “Bacon 25 Ways” article in Sunday’s Times magazine and have already vowed to make all of the dishes. Recently, I discovered the joys of bacon infused whiskey and yes, it is delicious.

    What are your food obsessions? Anything you think I’ve missed? Anything I’ve mentioned that you can’t stand? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.